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SPREWELL CASE AT IMPASSE, LIKELY HEADED FOR ARBITRATOR

Latrell Sprewell's hope for a reprieve was adjourned during Wednesday's unproductive negotiation in New York between the suspended player's advisory board, union executive Billy Hunter and commissioner David Stern.

Sources say the two sides never came close to reaching a compromise. It's the opinion of Sprewell's camp he should be allowed to sign with a team and play as early as February. The commissioner may have been willing to lift the ban by the start of next season -- instead of next December -- had Sprewell agreed to comply with a number of conditions, one of which was submitting to counseling to arrest his violent temper.

Neither side is expected to change its position, meaning the contention must be resolved by the arbitrator, whose decision, when (not if) appealed, figures to drag on at least for the month of January. In the meantime, fearing an unfavorable ruling, Sprewell is considering a well-paying offer in Greece for the remainder of the season.

Temptation overcomes Jordan

Luc Longley says he doesn't think Michael Jordan (36 points) was particularly up for Kobe Bryant (33; every one of them meaningless). "Michael is always up," Longley noted.

Jordan tried to control his competitive emotions and avoid getting into a "can I stop him, can he stop me?" duel with Bryant. But, at times, the temptation was too compelling. Upon request, coach Phil Jackson gave him the challenge. You couldn't ask for more princely theater in a game that was decided by the second commercial break, as each impresario took turns dazzling the other with unearthly night moves . . . a little dab'll do ya in.

Did any of Bryant's Jordanesque repertoire elicit any oohs or aahs out of His Airness? You better believe it. Bryant's savage invention off a breakaway in the fourth quarter was all the evidence the jury needed to find the league in contempt of court for replacing the often-monotonous All-Star dunk jamboree with a sedated shooting contest called 2-ball as long as the defending dunk champ still has his hops.

"I turned to Scottie and asked if we ever jumped that high when we were 19 years old," Jordan marveled. "He said, 'we probably did, but it's been so long ago, I don't remember.' "

Bryant's last five games going into Saturday's meeting with the Hornets: 25.6 ppg, 28.2 minutes, 52.9 FG percentage, 13.0 point average in the fourth quarter. He'd amassed 109 points in his previous 110 minutes before Friday's victory in Atlanta, where he announced he had no intention or interest in playing right field.

"Kobe played a man's game," Lakers coach Del Harris gushed after L.A. beat the Hawks. "His (team-high) 19 points were a lot more impressive than his 33 in Chicago. He had tough assignments on defense and he responded."

Fear not, Chuck Daly expects to complete the Bryant Rules before Christmas vacation.

Drexler just asking

Clyde Drexler got tossed by supercilious Steve Javie with 2:42 to go in the first quarter of the Rockets' win over the Kings. "I asked him two questions, so he threw me out," Drexler related. "When we get thrown out for asking questions, we've got a problem." Only if one of his questions was, "Did Jake O'Donnell loan you his whistle?"

Problems with Javie have become too consistent to ignore, Drexler submits. "It isn't the first time and it won't be the last time. There's a fundamental problem. I'm going to address it with the commissioner." And Sprewell's lawyers.

Charles Barkley had 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists against the Kings. "I still got plenty of game. I just don't like to break it out too much."

Cracking on his teammates apparently is always open season. On Drexler's ejection, Barkley had the audacity to say, "he has to put the team before himself. You have to put your ego in check. I'd like to say more, but my lawyer has advised me not to."

Stackhouse lowdown

Little-known facts about well-known falling stars: Jerry Stackhouse, who swears he suffered from lack-of-involvement as a 76er, finished second in the NBA last season in free throws attempted. League leader Karl Malone visited the welfare line 690 times. The offensively-ignored Stackhouse was only 23 behind.

Shortly before he became a Piston, Stackhouse said he'd prefer being traded to the Suns, Spurs or Heat, stating Detroit wasn't his choice of destinations. Demonstrating remarkable pliability, he now says, "I definitely would like to stay here."

Stackhouse also exhibits an amazing capacity to familiarize himself with his new teammates. "There's no ego tripping or anything like that," he said after downing 33 points in a losing cause against the Pacers. "The main focus right now is to try and win some games and get my entourage as comfortable as possible."

Meanwhile, tag-team partner Eric Montross erupted for no points in 35 debut minutes -- officially making him a non-factor for his fifth team in four years. "For me, I'd like to be able to take the rest of the season and grow with this team, learn how to play off their players and perhaps one day score."

Quick thoughts

According to Larry Brown, Derrick Coleman is the most intelligent player he's ever coached. I thought SAT scores were confidential. . . . Coleman's return to active duty means he's medically cleared to dog it again.

Jimmy Jackson has just 21 fewer assists than Allen Iverson this season. Iverson's making progress, Brown claims, "but he's got to be the one to understand who needs the ball and when. You have to remind him on every trip."

Had Wednesday's Bulls-Lakers been Game One of the Finals, Shaquille O'Neal could've played, says Harris. Do the Lakers miss Shaq? "If you told me he'd play five games and part of three more and that we'd be 19-6, I'd take it," Harris said. "We've missed him six times so far."

There's a simple explanation for Shawn Kemp's 10-point, five-rebound, six-foul misadventure in the Cavaliers' loss to the Knicks. I got to Gund Arena early Friday and spread the rumor Zydrunas Ilgauskas makes more money than the Reined-in Man. Things got so out-of-hand in the second half, Mike Fratello actually thought about playing Americans.